St. Denis Church, Shiocton, has been renovated to provide for ‘vibrant liturgies’

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | May 7, 2023

Renovated sanctuary and new altar supported by funds from one by One campaign

SHIOCTON — Shortly after arriving at St. Denis Church on Sunday, April 23, Bishop David Ricken walked down the aisle for a closeup look at the renovated sanctuary and new altar. He later shared his impressions to open his homily at the dedication Mass.

“It truly is beautiful, just gorgeous,” he said. “I’m so proud of all of you.”

The renovation project began in the fall of 2019 when elevating the beauty of the church and liturgy were discussed at the annual parish meeting. A year later, parish mission planning goals were confirmed for sanctuary enhancements.

The parish pastoral and finance councils allocated funds from the one by One Campaign, which is a fundraising partnership between the diocese and parishes. A building committee was formed to plan the renovation. Work was completed between January and April, 2023.

The current St. Denis Church was built in 1984. The tabernacle and altar were on one side of the sanctuary. The ambo and space for the crucifix were on the other side.

Bishop David Ricken was the celebrant at the dedication Mass for the new altar at St. Denis Church in Shiocton April 23. Concelebrants, pictured with Bishop Ricken during the consecration, are Norbertine Fr. Tim Shillcox, left, Fr. Mark Mleziva and Fr. Michael Thiel, pastor of St. Denis Parish, Shiocton, and St. Patrick Parish, Stephensville. (Jeff Kurowski | The Compass)

“It had shifted around a little bit over the past 40 years,” Fr. Michael Thiel told The Compass. He serves as pastor at St. Denis Parish and at St. Patrick Parish, Stephensville. “We want vibrant liturgies and we know that those begin with vibrant churches. We also said that, if we want our families to be centered on Jesus, we should have our church centered on Jesus as well.”

The new sanctuary features a centered crucifix and tabernacle under a baldacchino (roof) with a peak and stone and pillars on both sides.

“The peak of the baldacchino is based off the peak in the tabernacle,” said Fr. Thiel. “There are beveled edges on the altar and other furnishings that match the same angles of the peak of the tabernacle. We are tying the old and new together.”

The new altar was discovered by chance by Fr. Thiel in December 2021 while he was attending a conference at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb.

“The process of the sanctuary renovation at St. Denis had already begun. As I was going for a run, I saw, behind a machine shed, this massive old green altar,” he said. “I asked about it. I found out that it had been taken out of a different church that had been renovated and there was no intended purpose for it. It caught my eye because the green marble in the altar matched the green marble that was in the baptismal font at St. Denis. Prior to this renovation, the only marble in the church was the baptismal font.”

Fr. Thiel asked if the seminary would donate the altar. It took a year for confirmation. A family member of a St. Denis parishioner drove a truck and trailer to Nebraska to transport it.

“The marble (altar) wasn’t the right size. It was actually too big for the church,” said Fr. Thiel. “We were able to cut it down and use some of the pieces that we cut off the old mensa or table of the altar to use for the very solid base we built.”

Other items were repurposed for the renovation. The priest and deacon chairs are from the Holy Name of Jesus House of Formation in Allouez, which houses men in the Kairos Year, the first year of formation for priesthood in the Diocese of Green Bay. Some other items are believed to date back to the original St. Denis Church, built in 1898.

Bishop David Ricken pours chrism oil to anoint the new altar at St. Denis Church in Shiocton. (Jeff Kuroswki | The Compass)

“We found the altar cross and a few matching candlesticks in storage. Our best guess is they go back to the original church,” said Fr. Thiel. “We found other (candlesticks) that match the same style, so now we have a complete set.”

The tabernacle is from Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida, which closed prior to the building of St. Denis Church.

“It has been incredible to see all the details come together,” said Fr. Thiel. “A lot of credit goes to those who served on the building committee. The design ideas came from a couple of different concepts. It was up to the building committee to take those concepts and figure out what was exactly going to work.”

Doug Pahlow, owner of Pahlow Masonry in Shiocton, chaired the building committee. He has been a St. Denis Parish member since 1988.

“As long as I live, I hope that I can sit here and be happy to have been a part of it,” he said. “We (Pahlow Masonry) were able to do a lot of the stonework and demolition work. We donated all the materials. For this whole project, the only things the church actually purchased were the cabinets, the tile for the floor and the columns. Everything else, all the labor and materials were donated.”

Pahlow added that work stayed on course, despite working around the schedules of the volunteers.

“When you have people donate their time, you have to open up the schedule because it’s when they can get there,” he said. “It all came together. Mike Wilcox (Mike Wilcox Construction of Shiocton) builds a lot of high-end homes. He framed-out the columns and we covered it all with stone. He did all the woodworking and drywalling. Dave Wilcox is a custodian for the Appleton schools. He has knowledge of mechanicals. We funded this full renovation for a third to a quarter of the cost.”

Pahlow, who credited his wife, Cheryl, for her work on the project, including assisting with colors, played an important role in the dedication Mass. For the deposition of the relic, the relic of a martyred saint was brought to Bishop Ricken, who in turn, gave it to Pahlow, a stonemason. Pahlow placed the relic in a prepared aperture in the base of the altar and permanently closed it.

Bishop Ricken explained the four parts of the ceremony in his homily. He anointed the altar with holy chrism oil following the prayer of dedication.

“We spread oil all over the top because it’s set apart for a special purpose and it reminds us of the anointed one who is Jesus Christ himself,” he said.

Following the incensation of the altar and covering it by the altar servers, Deacons Mark Mullins and Dan Zajicek lit the candles for the celebration of the Eucharist.

The candles “symbolize that burning love and light from Christ by bringing light to a world of darkness,” said Bishop Ricken.

A 40-page booklet was created for the dedication Mass. Fr. Thiel, a concelebrant at the liturgy along with Norbertine Fr. Tim Shillcox, who has assisted at St. Denis, and Fr. Mark Mleziva, vocation director for the Diocese of Green Bay, used the text within the project details in the booklet as a teaching tool by explaining ritual furnishings within the sanctuary.

Fr. Thiel closed with thanks for all who contributed to the renovation project and the dedication. He also reemphasized earlier words from Bishop Ricken about the altar as “a sign of Christ.”

“It was stone, but this altar becomes holy because it is Christ’s body,” said Fr. Thiel. “We can say this is the happiest stone in the world right now at this joyful celebration.”

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